15 minutes with Manatees coach Zac Boyer
By Mark Fischel
Zac Boyer takes the bench with the Miami Manatees as the first coach in franchise history. After concluding a playing career that saw him be part of three championship winning teams, Boyer comes with the experience and know-how that is needed to install the blueprint of success.
Taking from his experience from his early days with the 1992 Memorial Cup winning Kamloops Blazers in the WHL, to winning the Turner Cup with the Houston Aeros in 1999, and last season as the Captain and Assistant coach with the Champion Orlando Seals, Boyer has already begun to instill his work ethic and mentality into his new role.
Boyer sat down recently to take part in a recent IRN.FM broadcast with Orlando Seals Broadcaster Steve McCall and Miami Manatees Broadcaster Mark Fischel to take part in the latest installment of ď15 Minutes withÖĒ
Question: The first question everyone wants to know is, how are you and how are things going in Miami?
Boyer: We are doing great! We have some very exciting players and we are looking forward to having hockey start. I am going crazy watching NHL games, and I would absolutely love to be playing right now.
I have been tempted a few times to call Jim Paek to see if he wants me to play. (laughs) I know for my health, I wouldnít be able to but I would love to do it, no problem.
Question: Does Orlando maintain your playing rights?
Boyer: I keep joking around that my equipment will make every road trip, so you never know. It is too much of a risk to jump into something like that.
Question: You served behind the bench with the Orlando Seals with coach Stan Drulia. What advice did he give you before your first game? What was that experience like for you?
Boyer: The first game was absolutely horrifying, to tell the truth. I had been in a situation as captain of the team and as one of the older players on the team.
I had pretty much full authority in the dressing room to snap on my teammates. The reason I was able to do that is because I had the gear on and I was looked upon as an equal. It was pretty easy to make guys accountable and to really teach the young guys.
To go from that role to standing behind the bench with a suit on, it become a little bit tougher to get into someoneís face a little bit because you arenít going through the battle.
That was the toughest adjustment for me. I was pretty much silent the first game, I didnít say a word and Drulia kept looking over at me like ĎWhatís wrong? How come you arenít giving it to the guys like normal?í
I was just as hard on myself as I could be as well, I would get on myself and keep myself accountable as well. So that was the biggest adjustment for me was being able to get into guys faces. But by the end of the year, I had full authority to do that.
On the flipside, we had such a great team that it wasnít like a yelling and screaming match all the time either. It was pretty smooth sailing for the most part. We didnít have too many valleys, but there were a lot of peaks on our team. So that was the biggest adjustment for me.
Question: Now that you will be on the bench for every game this season, what is like for you emotionally to get ready for that? You have played for ten years, and to stop playing before you were ready, what was the emotional impact like?
Boyer: To quit cold turkey is pretty tough. I talked to Ken Hitchcock earlier and some other friends of mine who are coaching in colleges and Canada to get their perspective on the adjustment of quitting playing to start coaching.
It is such an uncontrollable situation, you canít control the game, you canít score an important goal, make a great pass or a good block. There are so many little things that go into playing hockey, and the toughest part is that will be the part that makes me want to play.
I have been doing a lot of running and doing the stairs to play the game, and I have to get out of that mode because I am not playing. But donít be surprised!
Question: Throughout your career you have played for several high profile coaches. Is there any one coach that you have played for that was a large influence on your career, and maybe someone you want to emulate as you step behind the bench.
Boyer: Ken Hitchcock played an instrumental role in my life. I would never have made it to the NHL if it wasnít for him. He taught me what accountable is all about as a kid, in juniors, and in the pros when I was with him in Dallas. He is a negative motivator. His theory is to convince people to do what they hate and to absolutely love it. Look at what he did for Brett Hull and Mike Modano, and Dallas probably would never have won a Stanley Cup if Hitchcock wasnít there.
It is either his way or the highway, and that will be my philosophy. We do things our way, and I wonít have individuals and guys will have to learn to play in the team structure.
Hitchcock is the guy I would most like to emulate. He is so passionate about coaching. He really pays attention to every detail, and I am like that with myself.
I have played for Kurt Fraser, who I thought was great. I played for Dave Tippet in Houston, who now coaches the Dallas Stars. I played for Duane Sutter who is with the Panthers now. I have been fortunate to play with some excellent coaches and Ken Hitchcock is the biggest factor in my life for sure.
Question: Any coaches that you played for, and I am not asking for names here, that you felt that as a coach yourself now, that you would do something different?
Boyer: Well, for example Hitchcock is a negative motivator, he will call you every single name in the book until you have tears in your eyes. But he will get you to go through a wall. He is very aggressive, much like a Bobby Knight and Bill Parcells. He emulates himself after those two gentlemen.
I am not that type of personality, but I want to take those things that drove me crazy, and use it to get my guys to go through the wall for me. I donít know if I will attack a player so emotionally that it will scar them for life. (laughs) He scarred me for life, but the toughest teachers always seem to get the most respect.
But there are some things I will be doing different. I will be pretty strict with my guys, I am in this business to win games and that is all I care about. I am going to have a few rules that will be over the top for some guys, we need to win this and it is a marathon and not a sprint, so I will be doing some things different.
Question: You touched on the mental aspect of how you will be coaching this team. Tell us what kind of team approach on the ice you are leaning toward. You commented recently that this team will be a high scoring system.
Boyer: We are in the hockey business, and sometimes you win games one to nothing. But we are also in the entertainment business and the fans want to see goals and fights.
I was an offensive minded player and I have a lot of those types of guys on my team, but I also have a few character guys on the team, to keep things on an even keel so it doesnít become too much of a run and gun.
Defense does win, I totally agree with that. But if you canít score goals, you arenít going to win either so there has to be that fine line. I have some excellent skill players and hopefully we can score enough goals to win.
Question: The WHA2 has eliminated the center ice redline for passing purposes. You commented that you have never played without the red line, and this is a brand new game for you. What has the adjustment been like for you in regards to coaching?
Boyer: I was on the phone all day with college coaches that I am friends with, and they are faxing me their offensive zone breakouts in certain situations.
It is a totally new game because I have been taught all my life how to play with the red line. My neutral zone would have been with a red line and my fore-check would have been with a redline.
I think only a couple of things are going to change. Obviously the power play breakout is going to be different, your penalty killing system is going to be different because of no redline. They can fire a pass all the way from the goal line to the blue line. I love the rule and it is going to make the game more exciting.
On the flipside it is going to be an adjustment for me and there are guys on my team who have played with redlines their whole career too, so we are going to have to do a lot of practicing in that second week to get used to it. Everyone else is going to have to play with the same rules as well.
Question: At a lot of leagues at this level, coaches wear many different hats and the same applies for you in the WHA2. Not only are you in charge of game duties, but you are also in charge of scouting players, finding and signing the players. Tell us about that process.
Boyer: That aspect has thankfully been easy for me. I have only brought in players that I have played with or played against.
You have to think about when you played against these guys, were they hard to play against, was he fast, did he take away my time and space? I kind of viewed it as how hard were these guys to play against.
I had certain situations where our opponent was down, and they had teammates that didnít step up or show that they cared. They didnít do what was needed to get the team back into the game. So when guys like that were calling me, it was basically ĎI will pass, thank youíĒ
I got a lot of guys from the WCHL that I have played with. It is a great league and I have got guys coming to this team that I think were better players than me.
It has been pretty easy because I formed some pretty good relationships with players and I stayed in touch with them. My biggest attribute with these guys is that I was taught the game of hockey so I try to teach as much as I could, and I think the guys will respect that.
Question: Speaking about the players that you have signed. Letís go over some of the guys you have brought down to Miami to give the Manatee fans an idea of what to expect this season.
One player you signed is defenseman J.F. Picard, tell us about what to expect from Picard?
Boyer: He is very mean, he is crazy like Chris LiPuma but not over the edge. Picard plays mean and hard all the time like Lipuma, but you never knew with LiPuma if that switch was going to off in is head.
Picard is right on the edge of that, he plays aggressive and he is hard to play against. He is just huge and well built, and he is a very strong, solid player who is comparable to a Mark White kind of player.
Question: Another thing about J.F. Picard is that he is a great quality person off the ice.
Boyer: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Not one of these guys on my team will be a problem off the ice. Obviously I will trade a guy if he is a problem off the ice. I want to grab character people that want to represent this team, because I am putting my name on the line for them, as they are for me and for the city of Miami. J.F. Picard is going to be one of those figure heads for sure.
Question: One player that you played with for two season with the Colorado Gold Kings, and one that you were extremely enthusiastic about him signing with the Manatees was Tom Perry. What can we expect from Tom Perry?
Boyer: Tom Perry is such a quality person who will be the player/assistant coach. The players vote for the captain and I cannot see them not voting for Perry. He is a Brian Skrudland, Kirk Muller kind of guy who plays through every injury that is possible.
For him to miss a game, his arm has to be pretty much broken. But even then, I have seen Perry play with a broken wrist. He is just one of those ultimate warrior guys.
He is probably going to end up playing defense because the forward position is pretty solid, and we need him on defense to be offensive minded. He is a humble salt of the earth guy from Saskatchewan. He really is no-frills, he isnít going to wow you, but he is going to be so solid every night that a lot of players will not like playing against him.
Question: Two guys you have had the opportunity to see play last season when they were with the Cape Fear Fireantz are Ryan Kiley and Matt Kohansky. Will you be playing them together and what are your expectations?
Boyer: Ryan Kiley is right now our top center depending on who else comes in, but his speed makes him comparable to John Madden of the New Jersey Devils. He is a Boston guy who is always chirping and always talking on the ice. He is one of our faster guys and definitely a very hard worker. I expect a lot of good things from him.
Kohansky quietly had 26 goals last season. He does the little things right all the time, that is what I noticed about him. He plays pretty solid, it wasnít like he was flashy or anything but he just got the job done.
Question: One player you signed that is coming out a non-traditional area is goaltender Mark Scally. He played last season with ECHL Wheeling, and played college hockey with Penn State in the ACHA. What can we expect from Scally, and how did you find him?
Boyer: He came to Orlando last year and I couldnít believe he wasnít on our team. He deserved to be there, but Mike Goverde and Correia did such a great job in Orlando too. But with Scally, I thought he was so good and in amazing shape. I couldnít score on him and I didnít see too many other guys score on him either. I knew what kind of guy he was, he was always happy and he didnít complain at all. He is one of the guys that I sought out right away, and we are pretty fortunate that I was able to grab him. He will be outstanding for us.
Question: Kevin Swider comes to the Manatees after finishing last season tied for second in points in the ACHL. He also led his team in scoring. In conversations with you, it was commented that he was always around the net to find any loose puck available. What do you envision his role to be with the Manatees?
Boyer: His talent and skill level is extremely high. He is willing to pay the price to score goals and that is what I expect from him and he expects that from himself. He doesnít have to get 40 goals and I think he would rather take 30 goals and win a championship.
I think our scoring will be spread out with other players that will be just as good as Swider is in getting 40 goals. I expect huge things from Swider, but I donít want to put all the pressure on Swider to be the go-to guy, because I want to have every guy to be the go-to guy and not leave anyone out.
Question: Regardless of how many goals Swider ends up with, it sounds like you have assembled a balanced team of three lines that should give nightmares to opposing teams.
One player that you recently traded for that should give nightmares to the opposing team is Darcy Johnson. You played with him last season in Orlando, and he has the reputation of a very tough player on the ice. Tell us about why you made the trade for Johnson?
Boyer: I have been through wars with Chief in Orlando and the WCHL. He did a huge favor for me by playing for virtually very little in return. I wanted him on my team because he is very tough and he has a tremendous upside.
He had 12 goals for us in the beginning of the season, and he made the adjustment to the league quickly. There were some games that Drulia and I would look at each other and say that this kid could play in the American League some nights.
I think that is the difference between Johnson and some other players, is that they were great on some weekends where they were amazing but the biggest difference is that those guys in the American league are great every game.
One of the things that I want Darcy to be is to be good every weekend. Not good for one weekend and bad for two, but he brings a lot to the table and is a really good kid.
Question: In this league with a smaller bench, is their any concern with having a player that racks up a good amount of penalty minutes?
Boyer: Johnson is one of those guys who plays hard, and the Manatees will have other guys that will play just as hard every night.
We also have Eric Perriconi, He is an exceptionally fast player who would be one of the top five players in the league. I expect big things from him as much as he expects them from himself. His speed and strength will be a major factor in helping him dominate games.
We have guys who know how to play, and all I have to do is to remind them of the Doís and Doníts, employ a good system, and just go from there.
Question: Are there any other guys that you want to comment on?
Boyer: Sure! I signed Dmitri Doulebenets who I played with in Colorado in the WCHL. He is a Russian Defenseman who plays a rushing style. I expect huge things from him. He came to my team in the WCHL and he led the league in +/- by such a wide margin, it was crazy.
He has amazing skills and can beat 3 or 4 guys at once. He possesses so much talent and is in great shape, He doesnít complain and he loves jumping up in the rush all the time. He is a great kid with whom I expect great things from.
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